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Railfan Technology > Icom&Yaesu Handheld Ham Radios

Date: 04/21/19 11:26
Icom&Yaesu Handheld Ham Radios
Author: bnsf2001

Hello All, I'm considering purchasing  either the new Icom V86 handheld radio ( which replaces the IC V80 ) or the Yaesu FT270R , FT60R radios for railfanning. Also, would any of these radios be difficult to program the frequencies manually? Any recommendations or advice would be greatly appreciated !

Date: 04/21/19 11:42
Re: Icom&Yaesu Handheld Ham Radios
Author: TCnR

We have quite a bit of discussion about the Yaesu FT270R and FT60R in the TO 'archives. I own both of these models and think very well of them for the moment. There's quite a bit of discussion about the RR's moving to digital radio which would obsolete both of these models, but I haven't seen the RR's that I deal with every day moving to digital. Digital radio would be another discussion by itself and can be quite involved for technical, as well as my budget and RR budget reasons.

I can speak for the Yaesu's in that they both have great reception, around 0.2 microvolt which is typical for quality designs these days. They also do very well for intermod problems that effect  tri-band hobby style radios. Manually programming them is a challenge and the software package makes life much easier and also provides a place to put all your frequency info about RR or locations, which many folks would have on a computer these days anyways. It would be nice if they had programming on an a smartphone but I don't see that right now.

The Yaesu FT270R as a receiver, covers the RR band and has great speaker volume. The Yaesu FT60R has less volume but the reception covers the RR Band and the EOT/DPU transmission band, which some folks make use of and others don't. Both radios have a digital lock out to prevent transmisson outside of the HAM Bands. The Yaesu brand is common enough to be supported with aftermarket s/w, batteries and chargers. the prices are slightly about ri-band hobby radios but the performance is very worthwhile, this level of radio also has a decent re-sell value to the HAM market if the RR Band becomes a problem somehow.

Hope that helps.

Date: 04/21/19 21:45
Re: Icom&Yaesu Handheld Ham Radios
Author: bnsf2001

Very helpful,thank you!

Date: 04/22/19 06:43
Re: Icom&Yaesu Handheld Ham Radios
Author: BRAtkinson

I second the nomination for the FT-60R and FT-270R.  I owned the former to upgrade to the latter.  Both work equally well in my opinion.  Buying the programming software & cable with them makes programming them a breeze!

Date: 04/22/19 07:46
Re: Icom&Yaesu Handheld Ham Radios
Author: WW

OK, I will post this for the umpteenth time.  The Yaesu FT-270, like its predecessor the Vertex VX-170, is a very good radio, except for one very big limitation--it will NOT tune the "splinter" narrow-band analog frequencies that the railroads have been authorized to use since 2013.  As a practical matter, few of those channels are in use (yet), but they could be.  The lack of tuning capability for the splinter frequencies is not limited to the Yaesus--essentially none of the mainstream Japanese radio manufacturers (Icom, Yaesu, Kenwood, etc.) make an amateur portable that will tune the splinter analog frequencies created by narrow-banding.  In that regard, the Uniden BC-125AT scanner has the amateur radios beat--it will tune the splinter frequencies.  The BC-125AT will also perform almost as well as the FT-270 when using an antenna tuned to the 160 mHz frequency.  A few of the Chinese amateur radios--Wouxun radios, for example--will tune the splinter channels.  Quality of those radios can vary widely, so one needs to read reviews and check performance of those radios pretty carefully.

In the realm of mobile amateur radios, the Kenwood TM-281A is still about the only mainstream Japanese manufactured amateur mobile radio currently in production that will tune the splinter channels.  It is an excellent radio, only hobbled by the fact that it has a maximum of 200 memory channels.  Its performance is very close to as good as Kenwood's commercial two-way radios, which is pretty top of the line.  Ironically, Kenwood's portable counterpart to the TM-281A, the TH-K20A, won't tune the splinter frequencies.

The radio manufacturers tend to keep the tuning steps somewhat secret in their advertising, not even publishing it in some of their specs.  Usually, however, it is published in the owner's manual (often downloadable on-line).  The key thing to look for is the Tuning Step spec.  It MUST have tuning step capability of 2.5 kHz.  Forget all the other verbiage--IF THE RADIO WON'T DO 2.5 kHz TUNING STEPS, IT WILL NOT TUNE THE SPLINTER FREQUENCIES.  Period.

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 04/22/19 07:48 by WW.

Date: 04/22/19 09:55
Re: Icom&Yaesu Handheld Ham Radios
Author: TCnR

Is there a way to identify 'splinter frequencies' on the FRA channel assignment list?

Who is using them? UPrr, BNSF or transit angencies?

Date: 04/22/19 15:11
Re: Icom&Yaesu Handheld Ham Radios
Author: K3HX

I'd like to recommend the FT-270.  I've had 2 of the previous models, the FT-170 which
gave good service for many years.
Bought 2 "270" radios  which I now use.

Manually programming these radios is quite complex as there are a number of features for ham
operators that, if invoked whilst programming, will render the unit useless for railfans.
One errant keystroke and you get to start all over again.

RT Systems offers a computer disc+programming cable kit for about $50 which will do a good
job and may save hours of frustration.  (get the disc, not the download)
If you are computer-literate, there is a free program called "Chirp" that some have used. You will
still need the programming cable.  The one from RT Systems works, other devices have had a
series of problems.

If you choose the FT-270 there are a number of folks on TO who can assist you with operation.

You may wish to purchase a back-up battery CASE for those times when the supplied rechargable
battery PACK runs down. I picked up one from Amazon for about $10 which fits and works just fine
despite not being a genuine Yaesu part.  The company that sold it was "AOER."  The battery CASE
holds alkaline AA cells and has a circuit to protect them from being charged.

I do a lot of business with Giga-Parts and would recommend them as an honest merchant.
If you delay your purchase for a few weeks, you may be able to get a significant discount due to
the "Dayton Hamvention."  This is perhaps the largest gathering of ham operators in one place
on the planet and merchants offer special "DaytonHamvention" pricing even if you are ordering
over the phone but you have to ask for it.

As for antennas, I have measured with instruments a increase in signal with the MFJ-1717s. I suspect
it is identical to the Comet (RC-77) antenna advocated by others.

I'll be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Be Well,

Tim Colbert  K3HX

30+ years in the 2-way radio field
54 years in amateur radio.

Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 04/23/19 21:00 by K3HX.

Date: 04/22/19 17:28
Re: Icom&Yaesu Handheld Ham Radios
Author: WW

TCnR Wrote:
> Is there a way to identify 'splinter frequencies'
> on the FRA channel assignment list?
> Who is using them? UPrr, BNSF or transit
> angencies?

The analog splinter frequencies are AAR channel numbers 107-197. (Railroad frequency coordination is done by the Association of American Railroads--AAR--frequency coordinator, housed at the Transportation Test Center east of Pueblo, Colorado.)

Some explanation about narrow-banding and channel spacing.  In FM radio (frequency modulation) the frequency is modulated to create radio signal from voice.  Back in the wide-band days, the VHF radio band used a 25 kHz frequency width per channel.  For example, AAR channel 46 was 160.800 mHz.  The actual frequency bandwidth used was 12.5 kHz (0.0125 mHz) on either side of that.  So, that channel would use a width from 160.7875-160.8125 mHz.  Since there was no more radio spectrum available for the railroads (and most other industry groups to be able to expand into as their needs for additional channels grew), the decision was made to "re-farm" most of the non-amateur radio spectrum into narrower widths for each channel.  Thus, the analog channel width was narrowed from 25 kHz to 12.5 kHz.  In our example, AAR Channel 46 became AAR Channel 046, with a width from 160.79375-160.80625 mHz.  This effectively meant that new narrow band analog channels could be "inserted" between the former wide-band channels, effectively doubling the number of channels available.  That's where the new AAR channel nos. 107-197 come in.  The next step is NXDN digital.  With NXDN digital, the bandwidth necessary for each channel is cut in half again, from 12.5 kHz to 6.25 KHz.  The NXDN channels (AAR Channel Nos. 307-488) actually use the same frequencies as the existing narrow-band analog frequencies, but they do so with digital technology and the 6.25 mHz bandwidth.  In theory, if all narrow-band analog use was eliminated in the railroad band, the number of available channels in the railroad VHF band could be doubled again.

In the VHF two-way radio spectrum from 136-174 mHz, only amateur radio (144-148 mHz) still is allowed to wide-band (thus why most amateur radios will not tune the narrow band splinter channels).  The other major service in the 136 mHz-174 mHz amateur/commercial VHF spectrum that uses wide-band are the 7 National Weather Service radio channels from 162.400-162.550 mHz.

I do not know where the splinter channels may be in use.  I haven't delved deep into the FCC licensing database, but railroads are undoubtedly obtaining licenses for those channels for possible use at a later date. 

Since most scanners display frequencies, railfans always talk about frequencies, but railroad people nearly always refer to AAR Channel Nos.  So, having a cross-reference list of AAR channel nos. is always a good idea.    Also, as I've mentioned before, AAR channels are always referred to in "duplicate" on the railroad--the first number being the transmit channel, the second the receive channel.  So, a simplex channel with the same frequency of 160.8000 mHz in our example above would be AAR Channel no. 046-046.  Were it an NXDN channel (same frequency), it would be AAR Channel No. 385-385.  For a duplex channel (often used when talking through repeaters) with, say, a transmit frequency of  160.2300 mHz and a receive frequency of 160.8000 mHz, the Channel number would be 008-046 (narrow-band analog) and 309-385 (NXDN digital). 

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 04/22/19 17:30 by WW.

Date: 04/22/19 17:45
Re: Icom&Yaesu Handheld Ham Radios
Author: TCnR

That means an analog 'wide' channel receiver will still de-mod the 'narrow' channel. The display will not show the narrow channel center frequency.

It also means that if you're monitoring a non-splinter channel the radio will still de-mod the desired channel, albeit at a lower volume and also susceptible to inference from the splinter channel if it is being used.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 04/22/19 17:59 by TCnR.

Date: 04/25/19 21:58
Re: Icom&Yaesu Handheld Ham Radios
Author: MrChew

I've been using the Alinco DJ-500T hand held unit which will tune the splinter frequencies...It's usually around $100. Will give a shout out to Universal Radio Inc. in Worthington, OH. which has been
a great resource for both new and used equipment over many years.

Date: 04/27/19 21:24
Re: Icom&Yaesu Handheld Ham Radios
Author: WW

MrChew Wrote:
> I've been using the Alinco DJ-500T hand held unit
> which will tune the splinter frequencies...

I looked at specs awhile back on Alincos, but I missed looking at this one. Yes, it will tune the 2.5 kHz steps for the splinter channels.  The radio does get pretty mixed reviews from hams--programming, either by keypad or software, is often referred to as "awful."  One way to avoid this nightmare (with any radio) is to program all of the AAR channels into the radio right off the bat, and then just use the keypad channel lockout functions to select the channels that one wants to scan.  Unfortunately, programming all of the AAR channels into memory uses up just about all of the 200 channel memory, so the radio can't have very many other non-railroad channels programmed into it.

Several reviews noted that quality of the DJ-500t was inconsistent, some radios trouble-free, some with problems right out of the box.   Short battery life between recharges was also mentioned frequently as an issue.

Unless one is going to use the DJ-500t for amateur radio purposes, I have trouble recommending it over a Uniden BC-125AT scanner for railfanning.  To be fair, I may be a bit prejudiced.  I have only owned one Alinco radio--bought some 20 years ago.  It was an OK radio in some respects, but its sensitivity and selectivity were so awful as to make it almost useless for railfanning.  It spent most of its life with me gathering dust in a drawer, especially after I invested in a Kenwood, commercial TK-290 portable--the TK-290 arguably being one of the best all-around performing portable radios ever made.  There are still a lot of those in use, but they are limited by only having 160 channels and having obsolete PC programming software that won't even run on some computers.

At this point, after going through a number of amateur portable radios,  my "interim" recommendation for a portable radio for railfanning is the Uniden BC-125AT scanner.  For a scanner, it's not a terrible performer and is reasonably priced.  Just be sure to buy the leather case for it.  As I noted in another post some time back, the BC-125AT's standard plastic case probably wouldn't stand up to being dropped onto a hard surface unless it has a leather protective case.  Beyond that, looking toward NXDN implementation, the "long-term" choice is to buy one of the Icom or Kenwood commercial NXDN portables.  I've owned and operated NXDN radios for nearly a decade, so  most of my analog-only equipment has been largely gathering dust for quite awhile.  The exception is my BC-125AT--I can use it for railfanning, but generally don't.  I keep it around for analog non-railroad radio, of which there is still a lot in use where I live.

Date: 04/28/19 10:49
Re: Icom&Yaesu Handheld Ham Radios
Author: TCnR

After going through these posts a few times I agree that the Uniden BC-125AT scanner is looking better all the time. There's some things that are kinda primitive but other basic features that work quite well, like the USB charging. There's a lot to be said to ba able to use the tri-band capability in some areas, for example the California Highway Patrol still lives in the 42 MHz band. When there's something going on, like the recent Wildfires in California, it's a good idea to be agile. The hobby tri-band radios have a bad reputation for intermods and picking up data noise from many places, but the simplicity and the decent sensitivity may be what some folks are looking for.

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